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Northwestern Basketball Preview Part 1: Backcourt

by Chris Johnson (@ChrisDJohnsonn)

This is my favorite time of year. It’s when basketball and football collide, when the week-long wait for one Saturday contest doesn’t feel nearly as long thanks to week night hoops games, when – and here comes the kicker – Northwestern commences its annual attempt at breaking the 74-year NCAA Tournament drought that hounds its basketball existence. There will be plenty of time to discuss that as the season rolls on. For now, it’s time to embrace nonconference play. In case you haven’t heard, this year’s Wildcats have more than a few newcomers (nine, to be exact) joining the ranks. Most of last season’s group returns, but the 2012-13 Cats should bring a decidedly different feel on both ends of the floor. We’re breaking down the frontcourt and backcourt, player by player, in painstaking detail, to get you prepared. The goal is to familiarize you with the team you’ll be seeing over the next five months and to satisfy your appetite for preseason Wildcats basketball material.

Stay posted this afternoon for the frontcourt reveal. This post concerns the backcourt. Enjoy.

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Projected Starters

Point guard — Dave Sobolewski (6-1, 190 pounds; Sophomore) – There were clear signs early last season that Sobolewski, a true freshman – and not a particularly highly-touted one at that (Scout.com gave him a two-star grade) – would become a huge part of the Wildcats’ winning formula. By the time conference play rolled around, Sobolewski emerged as an indispensable backcourt cog. His sure-handed ballhandling and savvy passing  provided stability, balance and the free-flowing pace coach Bill Carmody preaches. He posted an impressive 19.9 assist rate, and a 111.3 adjusted offensive rating, according to kenpom.com, which ranked 24th among Big Ten players. By season’s end, Sobolewski wasn’t just a serviceable passer. He was a capable scorer. This season, he’s ready to elevate his game to a new level.

Shooting guard — Reggie Hearn (6-4, 210 pounds; Senior) – During an eight-game stretch beginning on January 11 in which JerShon Cobb was sidelined while nursing a hip injury, Hearn averaged nearly 11 points, 1.4 assists and 4.3 rebounds per game. His season averages were as follows: 7.4 points, 1.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds. The discrepancies, however slight, are notable. Why? Every game this season will be played under Cobb-less conditions. Hearn, more than anyone else, will be charged with making up for Cobb’s lost production. That eight-game sample suggests he can. Whether he can do it over the course of an entire season remains an open question. At the very least, Hearn is a capable defender with a serviceable offensive repertoire.

Backups

Tre Demps (6-2, 200 pounds; RS Freshman) Whatever statistical or predictive wisdom you can draw from a four-game sample, Demps’ presents a favorable snapshot. His best game came against Mississippi Valley State, where he scored eight points in 26 minutes. More impressive was Demps’ wiry athleticism and high basketball IQ. His curtailed debut season provided little room for analysis, but there was no doubting Demps’ agility, quickness and his keen sense of distribution and offensive know-how. It’s unclear how he will fit into the guard rotation this season, or whether he can play alongside Sobolewski. One thing is certain: Demps will feature prominently in NU’s backcourt.

Alex Marcotullio (6-3, 195 pounds; Senior)It is not difficult to predict Marcotulio’s season performance. He is the prototypical backcourt sparkplug, the guy you pull off the bench to knock down a few threes and ignite your offense. Marcotullio thrived from beyond the arc last season, cashing 41.3 percent of his three point attempts, good for 10th in the Big Ten, and you can expect more of the same in his senior campaign. I could talk about how Marcotullio has worked on developing a more well-rounded offensive game, how he’s not a one-trick pony, but I’d probably be lying. Marcotullio’s underlying purpose is to catch, shoot, and fireaway from distance. The stats bear it out: He attempted 24 two-point shots last season and made 12 of them. Contrast that with the 92 threes he jacked up, of which he made 38, and you get a clear picture of Marcotullio’s offensive purpose: Observe, run off screen, catch, shoot, release.

Ojar Jimenez (6-1, 185 pounds; Sophomore) – Perhaps your more familiar with Jimenez’ rapper pseudonym. Jimenez, a walk-on who joined the team just a week before the season-opener, appeared in just eight games, the highlight coming in a 92-67 win over Mississippi Valley State, where he notched three points in thirteen minutes. Jimenez is unlikely to see much court time this season, though he could get some run in nonconference play. Now that he’s experienced the college game for a season, Jimenez could (repeat: could) contribute as a marginal bench player. More likely, he’ll continue his development this season and grow into a more prominent reserve role in the future.

James Montgomery III (6-4, 190 pounds; Junior) – Another walk-on who joined the Wildcats last season, Montgomery III played in 11 games and recorded one point on a free throw against Wisconsin. Like Jimenez, Montgomery III probably won’t demand minutes in any games of consequence. The loss of Cobb, who was suspended the entire season for academic issues, may afford Montgomery III some playing time in nonleague play. The backcourt has plenty of depth, but it would come as no surprise if Montgomery, who should improve after a year’s experience, played his way into a backup option. The early part of the schedule is Montgomery III’s best chance to make a positive impression and prove he deserves more playing time.